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New Testament Lesson 20 (KD): Matthew 21-23

Posted by Karl D. on May 21, 2011

Gospel Doctrine
Lesson: Matthew 21-23

Reading: Matthew 21-23

PDF Version of Notes

1 Approach

These represent the notes I made during my reading of the scriptural text for this lesson. It is not a lesson outline or a lesson plan but really notes about issues and questions that struck me as interesting during my reading. Consequently, the notes do not have a conclusion and very little mention of application. I like to let those things arise while I teach.

2 Entry Into Jerusalem

The last few less, Luke has been the main text. This lesson switches back to Matthew as the main text of the lesson. Actually, it has been five lessons since Matthew was the main text. However, this lesson follows last week’s lesson closely in the sense that we read about the events leading up to Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem (from the Lukean perspective) and today we read about Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem (from the Matthean perspective).

Read Matthew 21:1-11:

(1) And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and were come to Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives, then sent Jesus two disciples, (2) Saying unto them, Go into the village over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them unto me. (3) And if any man say ought unto you, ye shall say, The Lord hath need of them; and straightway he will send them. (4) All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying,

(5) Tell ye the daughter of Sion,
Behold, thy King cometh unto thee,
meek, and sitting upon an ass,
and a colt the foal of an ass.

(6) And the disciples went, and did as Jesus commanded them, (7) And brought the ass, and the colt, and put on them their clothes, and they set him thereon. (8) And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way; others cut down branches from the trees, and strawed them in the way. (9) And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest. (10) And when he was come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, Who is this? (11) And the multitude said, This is Jesus the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee.

2.1 The Images

The images are striking in this pericope. I think it is easy to lose sight of these striking and wonderful images because we have read or heard this story (or the versions found in the other gospels) so many times.

  • What image or images do you find meaningful? What do those images teach you about Jesus?
  • Do any of the images teach about the nature of his messiahship or kingship? About the nature of his kingdom?

2.1.1 The Donkey

The first image that grabs my attention is the donkey. The donkey is a draft animal; it is not a symbol of power. The horse was the usual war animal.1

  • I think it is easy to lose sight of the power of the donkey imagery. However, I think this a powerful image and often strikes a first time readers as strange. I remember reading these verses during family scripture a few years ago, and my then 7 year old daughter specifically asked, “but Daddy, Why didn’t Jesus ride a horse?”
  • How or in what ways does the donkey remind the reader that Jesus is indeed a King, but unlike any other King?

2.1.2 Garments and Branches

Verse 8 employs such interesting imagery:

And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way; others cut down branches from the trees, and strawed them in the way.”

  • What are the people doing? Why would the multitude do this for a king? In a symbolic sense how does this show kingly respect? Can you think of modern analogue to verse 8?
  • I guess the modern analogue would be something like the “red carpet.” The garments and branches that the multitude throw down form a carpet. Malina and Rohrbaugh, in their commentary, suggest the following context:2

[T]he feet of the ass do not even touch the soil or stones that ordinary people trod. The extraordinary personage given this sort of welcome is thus marked off as apart from and superior to ordinary human affairs and conditions.

  • Additionally, the carpeting of the ground to welcome a king is also found in the Old Testament. After Elisha anoints Jehu King (to replace Ahab) his officers do the following (2 Kings 9:13 (NRSV)):

(13) Then hurriedly they all took their cloaks and spread them for him on the bare steps; and they blew the trumpet, and proclaimed, “Jehu is king.”

2.1.3 Riding Two Animals

we have the somewhat strange image implied by verse 7:

And brought the ass, and the colt, and put on them their clothes, and they set him thereon.”

  • It is a strange image because it seems to imply that Jesus sat on both the donkey and the colt (given the context it refers to a young donkey). This is also different then the other gospel accounts. For example, Mark 12:7 reads: And they brought the colt to Jesus, and cast their garments on him; and he sat upon him.
  • What is going on here? Why this weird image?
  • I think most Mormons will point to the JST as a solution. The JST for this verse is the following (see footnote 7a):

and brought the colt, and put on it their clothes; Jesus took the colt and sat thereon; and they followed him.

  • This certainly solves the problem of Jesus riding on multiple donkeys at the same time, but it also leaves me with more questions than ever. If the disciples don’t bring both the donkey and the colt, why are both mentioned in verse 2? Doesn’t this make the story inconsistent because in verse 2, Jesus says, “[g]o into the village over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them unto me[?]” There is no JST footnote for verse 2.
  • Actually, Joseph Smith removed all references to the “ass” in the full Joseph Smith Translation of the bible (Inspired Version). The footnotes in the LDS edition of the King James bible only mention the changes to verse 7 and do not include the changes made by Joseph Smith to verse 2 that only mention the colt and not the donkey. Only footnoting the verse 7 changes make the story pretty inconsistent. If the verse 7 footnote is included then I think the verse 2 changes needs to be footnoted. Not including the verse 2 changes makes the JST seem very inconsistent, and implies that the disciples didn’t follow Jesus’ command to “bring them [the ass and the Colt] unto them.” To some degree I am still unsure what the JST tells us in this situation because as Robert J. Matthews has indicated that the JST isn’t always or maybe even mostly about restoring lost or original text. The JST certainly contains doctrinal harmonization separate from restoration. Thus, it could easily be a harmonization and not a restoration because all the other gospels all mention just one animal.
  • However, the fulfillment citation is not removed (Zech 9:9). It still mentions an donkey and a colt. How do you reconcile the fulfillment scripture with the idea that only a colt was involved?
  • The fulfillment scripture really only mentions one animal. The scripture is poetic and should be read as the following:

(5) Tell ye the daughter of Sion,
Behold, thy King cometh unto thee,
meek, and sitting upon an ass,
and a colt the foal of an ass.

  • Colt and the ass are parallel terms referring to the same animal. Thus the prophecy really only refers to one animal. It follows classic parallel structure; the lines are largely synonymous, but the second line includes greater specificity about the nature of the animal (it is a donkey and more). I think most scholars believe that Matthew refers to both an donkey and a colt because it appears to fit with the prophecy better. Essentially, they are arguing that Matthew missed the parallelism and altered his account so that it included two animals (which is why only Matthew contains a reference to two animals).
  • Also, who is the daughter of Sion? What is the King coming to the daughter of Sion?

2.2 Themes Old and New

The Entry into Jerusalem marks the beginning of the climax of the gospel: Jesus’ atonement, death, and resurrection (the passion narrative). In some ways that makes this pericope transitional.

What themes does this story mention that have been prominent throughout the gospels? Are any of them particularly important to the gospel of Matthew? Are there any new concepts or threads that are emphasized or mentioned in this pericope?

2.2.1 Old Themes

  1. Once, again we see the importance of the Old Testament and how, at least in Matthew’s view, Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecy. This is a particular theme in the gospel of Matthew, and in this pericope contains a fulfillment citation in verse 4-5, but not in the other gospels: For example, see Mark 11:1-10 and Luke 19:28-40.
  2. Jesus’ status as King. At least in the Gospel of Matthew, I don’t remember this being an important thread since the visit of the wise man (Matthew 2:1-12). However, it is a very important part of the magi narrative. Also, even though the stories are quite different, they both have the common thread that in each situation Jesus throws Jerusalem into turmoil:
  3. 3 When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. – Matthew 2:3 (KJV)

    10 When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” -Matthew 21:10 (NRSV)

    Or was way scholar translates: “the whole city shook.”3 I think this connection is heightened by the fact that this is the first time that Matthew has Jesus coming to Jerusalem. Also, note we miss this connection because the King James version renders the passage as, “And when he was come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved.”

  4. Jesus is the “Son of David.” Matthew identifies Jesus as the “Son of David” in the beginning of his account (the genealogy: Matthew 1:1-18). This is a very important theme in the gospel of Matthew; the title gets used 9 times in the gospel of Matthew and only twice in both Mark and Luke. The title had messianic implications and many Jews expected the Messiah to be a descendant of David (see Psalms of Solomon 17:21-26, first century BCE pseudepigrapha).
  5. Jesus prophetic abilities are emphasized: the Donkey was available as prophesied.

2.2.2 New Themes

Jesus claims or proclaims his messianic Kingship publicly for the first time and the crowds recognize him as the Messiah.

  • Actually is this a new claim or have I miscategorized it? Hasn’t Jesus already claimed this? In what sense is this a new claim?
  • Does the crowd really recognize him as the Messiah?
  • It isn’t new if we take a harmonized view of all four gospels. You have some pretty explicit statements to large crowds in Jerusalem by Jesus in John 7-8 about his messiahship. In addition, at least some people in the crowds accept or believe in his messiahship. However, I think it is new from the perspective of the gospel of Matthew. It is the first time that Matthew has told us about such a public proclamation.
  • Why would Matthew not mention the same proclamations as the gospel of John? What are the possibilities?

3 Cleansing the Temple

In the next pericope, Jesus’ cleanses the temple. Read Matthew 21:12-17:

(12) And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, (13) And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves. (14) And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them. (15) And when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying in the temple, and saying, Hosanna to the Son of David; they were sore displeased, (16) And said unto him, Hearest thou what these say? And Jesus saith unto them, Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise? (17) And he left them, and went out of the city into Bethany; and he lodged there.

3.1 Pairs: Similar and contrasting:

Notice, the the use of pairs that are both similar and contrasting:

  1. He went into the temple and he went out of the city,
  2. sold and bought,
  3. tables and chairs (seats),
  4. moneychangers and the dove sellers,
  5. house of prayer and den of thieves,
  6. blind and lame,
  7. chief priests and scribes, and
  8. babes and sucklings (children).

The whole story seems to be expressed in a series of pairs. Are these different pairs important? What do they emphasize?

  • I must admit I am not exactly sure why Matthew constructs the narrative using so many pairs. It does show Matthew’s literary artistry, and maybe that is worth noting in and of itself.
  • Is there a pattern to the use of these pairs?
  • I also think it is interesting that the main contrasting pair, “house of prayer” and “den of thieves”, are both separate scriptural allusions. The “house of prayer” part comes from Isaiah 56:7 (really the Septuagint version of Isaiah 56:7) and the “den of thieves” allusion comes from Jeremiah 7:11.

3.2 A King

How or in what way is the cleansing of the temple related to Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem? Is it a logical next step for Jesus’ after entering the city? What do kings usually do after winning great battles or after they become King? What themes link the entry and the cleansing?

  • Can we figure out why Jesus cleanses the temple? What were the temple denizens doing wrong? Is it an important detail that Jesus casts out both the buyers and the sellers and not just the sellers? What about referring to the temple as a den of thieves?
  • I think it is unlikely that Jesus is opposed to the general function of money changing. Donald Hagner, in the Word Biblical Commentary suggest the following about money changing:4

Money changers exchanged Roman currency for Tyrian coins …, which alone could actually be used for making offerings or paying the temple tax.

  • We know from Matthew 17:22-27 that Jesus paid the temple tax. Is it the location of these activities that is the problem?
  • Possibly; scholars do say that there is evidence that animals for sacrifice could be purchased at special facilities on the Mount of Olives.5
  • It is tempting to conclude that the money changers where cheating people because of the “den of thieves” language. However, Jesus throws out both the buyers and sellers which seems inconsistent with that idea.

3.3 The Lame and Blind

Is it significant that the blind and lame came to the temple and Jesus healed them? Does it help us understand why the temple was cleansed?

  • The lame and the blind were restricted in terms of their temple access:

And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, (17) Speak unto Aaron, saying, Whosoever he be of thy seed in their generations that hath any blemish, let him not approach to offer the bread of his God. (18) For whatsoever man he be that hath a blemish, he shall not approach: a blind man, or a lame, or he that hath a flat nose, or any thing superfluous, (19) Or a man that is brokenfooted, or brokenhanded, –Lev 21:16-19

  • Thus Jesus kicks out those who normally have access to the temple and allows those usually denied access to enter. Furthermore, by doing so he turns the temple into a house of healing and prayer.
  • Does healing in the temple do anything else beside returning it (in a very tangible way) to its proper focus?
  • It seems to me that it ratifies the cleansing. If Jesus can heal in the temple after cleansing it, then it shows that the cleansing was from God. The healings also point to the true role of the Messiah and nature of the kingdom of God and how they differ from expectations. His first public kingly act involves healing the those with the lowest status in the society.

3.4 Children

Is it significant that the children were in the temple and crying “Hosanna to the Son of David? Is the imagery important beyond the fact that the children fulfilled scripture? Are the chief priests and scribes upset at the children, the lame and the blind, or Jesus?

  • This is very interesting. Jesus has just thrown out at least some of the normal temple patrons and workers and then let normally restricted people into the temple. However, the text seems to suggest the chief priests and scribes are most upset over the children (at least that is what they focus on). I don’t think I understand this.
  • Why? Why is the presence and actions of the children so upsetting? Do the chief priests and scribes think Jesus’ should be upset with the children as well?

4 The Fig Tree

Read Matthew 21:18-22:

(18) Now in the morning as he returned into the city, he hungered. (19) And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away. (20) And when the disciples saw it, they marvelled, saying, How soon is the fig tree withered away! (21) Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done. (22) And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.

  • I think the last time Jesus’ was described as hungry in the gospel of Matthew was in 4:2-4 during the temptation narrative. The difference between the two stories seems a bit ironic.
  • Scholars indicate that the leaves of the fig tree ordinarily develop after the fruit or at least they develop after the fruit bud which is edible.6 Thus there would have been an expectation that the tree had fruit and it is surprising that it didn’t.
  • How is this story related to the earlier events of this chapter? In particularly, how is it related to the cleansing of the temple? Does it helps us understand the cleansing of the temple better?
  • Jesus’ actions seem very surprising and even shocking. Why is that an important part of this story?


1 Malina, Bruce J., and Richard L. Rohrbaugh,
2003, Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels,
Fortress Press, 105.

2 Malina, Bruce J., and
Richard L. Rohrbaugh, 2003, Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, Fortress Press, 105.

3 The New Jerome Bible Commentary, Prentice Hall, 664.

4 Hagner, Donald A., 1988, Word Biblical Commentary: Matthew 14-28, Nelson Reference and Electronic, 600.

5 Hagner, Donald A., 1988, Word Biblical Commentary: Matthew 14-28, Nelson Reference and Electronic, 600

6 Hagner, Donald A., 1988, Word Biblical Commentary: Matthew 14-28, Nelson Reference, 605.

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